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Couple shares a lifetime of laughing, loving and commitment

Anita and Jesse Martinez were the driving force for La Puerta de Oro senior center, the only Spanish-speaking center in the state. They are featured in the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative's “Oklahoma's Most Inspiring Couples” 2010 calendar.
BY LINDA MILLER Modified: November 14, 2010 at 6:40 am •  Published: November 14, 2010

After 63 years of marriage, Anita and Jesse Martinez still laugh a lot. Sometimes at each other, but mostly with each other.

It's a connection that gets them through the day as they reminisce about how they met, their early marriage when all they could afford for transportation was a bicycle, his Parkinson's and their rewarding years at La Puerta de Oro senior center, which means “golden door” in English.

Anita Martinez was director for Oklahoma City's first Hispanic center, which is still the state's only Spanish-speaking center, from 1975 to 2005. She traveled across the country, talking about the center and what made it so successful. She still volunteers there two days a week.

After retiring from Tinker Air Force Base in 1981, Jesse Martinez started driving a bus for the Salvation Army, which provides rides to the center so the elderly can enjoy a hot meal, socialize, have fun and learn a bit of English. He, too, retired in 2005.

“When he went to work with me, oh, it made it so nice,” Anita said. “Our offices were right next to each other.”

She said one day she asked him, “Viejo, did you ever think you'd work over here with me?”

“If I did, I wouldn't have retired,” she recalls him saying.

Viejo is her nickname for him. It means old man. His for her is vieja, or old woman.

“All of the people at the center know him as that,” she said.

Anita is 80; Jesse is 85.

Her early days at the senior center were demanding. She did all the cooking, driving and activity planning. She even directed the band. About 100 people were at the center each weekday then; today the number is closer to 30. Bus pickup is only two days a week.

“When Mom quit cooking, she lost a lot of people,” said daughter Bernadette Martinez, who works for the Oklahoma County Senior Nutrition Program and is site manager of the center.

She knows it's her mother, though, who is still the heart and soul of the center.

“She's the one who built it. She's the woman who networks. It's her who they come to see,” her daughter said.

Anita Martinez and her husband worked together when he wasn't driving the bus. Seniors liked him behind the wheel because he detoured once in a while when one of them needed milk or bread from the grocery store. All they had to do was ask. Twice he was in the right place at the right time. A woman had fallen beside her house, and he found her. Another time a man had a heart attack, and he revived him.

“It wasn't boring,” he said. “I enjoyed working with the senior citizens.”

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Editor's note
Anita and Jesse Martinez are featured in the “Oklahoma's Most Inspiring Couples” 2010 calendar, sponsored by the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative. Couples featured in the calendar are being profiled in The Oklahoman's Life section each month. For more information about the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative's inspiring couples, go to www.foreverforreal.com.

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